Big Gencon stakes discussion

I understand that I missed out on a big conversation at Gencon about stakes-setting and conflict resolution and such. I'm very curious to know what was said.

Can anyone summarize for me, or perhaps just post a few key points that were discussed?
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Comments

  • I hate to add a zero-content post, but I'm ultra-interested in this too.
  • Read this for some discussion. I was there, and I get it, but I was loopy with sleep deprivation at the time. I was "There are lizards wearing Bishop's mitre's flanking Ron Edwards" tired. Unless...naw...
  • Hey guys,

    I'm thinking maybe a Q&A will be the best way to do this. I'll start by asking myself a question and answering it, and then you guys just fire questions from there. If you could, try not to dogpile me, OK?

    Q: Why do you have a bug up your ass about this Stakes thing? All sorts of people are using the term and their games rawk.

    A: "Rawk," right now, is not yet evidence of the games working out for consistently fun play across a whole bunch of different people, outside the immediate community. I do not yet acknowledge that we have rawking as a consistent feature across most of the games offered for sale at the booth this year. I'm seeing a feature in many which will instead be a consistent trip-up of fun, despite essentially sound and powerful game design, especially in Currency. That feature is pre-narration of outcomes and calling it "stakes."

    What I'm seeing with this stakes-type play that's got up my ass is this: not fun. I'm seeing the same thing that is probably familiar to all of us, but in a new guise. The familiar thing is this:

    GM: Make your stealth roll to get past the guard.
    Player: Made it!
    GM: You get past that guard and the other guards surround you.
    Player: What? Total ass! My roll says I made it through!
    GM: No, your roll says you got past that one guard. That's what I said.

    (Totally annoying conversation ensues, all about what "would" happen and "if that happens then this," and similar. Note that the same thing could happen if the player were being an asshat about a roll's outcome instead of the GM.)

    So what's the new thing? The same interaction, only before the roll rather than after it.

    GM: The demon-guy is going to burn the book with your mother's secret letters in it!
    Player in PTA, playing Buffy (by whatever name): That demon has gone too far this time. I kick his ass!
    GM: If I win, then your mother falls in love with him!
    Player: Oh yeah? If I win, then his dick shrivels up!

    It's the same chesting (not "chest-beating," a listening-error made by some people that evening, but rather butting and shoving with chests) as in the previous example - but positioned before the roll, not after.

    It can go on to pretty absurd extremes, with people really expanding the scope ("if I win, the school burns down!!" "If I win, you're really a man in disguise!"), but it's not that absurdity I'm talking about, but the basic structural problem.

    People who say, "But we have fun! This works! You're just inveighing against something you don't like, as usual, Edwards!" are using exactly the same argument that used to be applied to the older version. "It worked for us!" Why? Because they enjoy chesting with one another, and have little to no interest in whether the demon-guy burns the book or whether he gets his ass kicked. All in-game conflicts are present only for the opportunity to chest. Any minute now, they'll say "you just have to find the right group" to support their point, which is no argument at all.

    (post continued)
  • (continued)

    I discovered at the conversation that most of the authors whose games have this feature fully understand it as a problem, and did not intend for their use of "stakes" to be used in this fashion. Jason, based on what you said there, I think this is your situation, when you said, "The text in The Roach is ambiguous" about it. I agree. I do not think the Roach rules advocate this kind of nonsense, but I do think they lend themselves to it in the same way that many traditional rules-sets lent themselves to the early version of the same problem.

    I am seeing a serious issue in play-reports, too. In posts about the very games I'm seeing this "stakes" talk in, I'm seeing frustration and fatigue in attempted play, especially from the most important group, the people who bought the game upon reading fun posting about it, but without direct contact with the designer and acquaintances. You can like me or not like me, but I do suggest that my experience with reading and assessing actual play reports might bear a little respect ... enough, at least, to take a second look for yourself.

    And this is a serious issue. Until now, one thing we could always say was that if you bought a game that had been "baked at the Forge," you could fucking well play it. Dust Devils? My Life with Master? Universalis? Elfs? Like them or not, confused about a detail or not, you could open the book and sit down and actually play, and decide for yourself if it was your thing. If we lose that, we lose the single most important thing about independent publishing, that it can produce playable games more consistently than the other sorts of publishing. (Note: more consistently, not "always")

    OK, that's my answer to my own question, to start off the discussion if anyone's interested. That's what I'm talking about and that's why I have a bug up my ass about it. I'd love to answer further questions.

    I also think the link to the Forge thread is really important for understanding all this too, because it's based on actual play and therefore can be utilized to make sense.

    Best, Ron

    P.S. Jason, I thought that look of glazed intensity on your face was evidence that I was both convincing and riveting ... now I realize it was your Hunter S. Thompson moment, trying to maintain while desperately ignoring "your grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth," as he would say.

    P.P.S. I just realized a question I can expect is, "which games are you picking on, specifically?" There's a fair version of that question, merely seeking pure information in order to understand my point, and there's a shitty version of that question, which is designed to paint me as a bully and a game-picker-onner. On the internet, they're indistinguishable. I'm going to have to ignore that question, and will choose games for examples as fairly as possible, as issues come up, like I did with the Roach in this one.
  • Ron,

    Can you point to an example of a game where players have a role in setting "if I win then this, if you win then that"-type stakes that doesn't devolve into chestbeating?

    Is it the fact that the stakes are being set by multiple people, or the fact that the stakes are not binary on "this happens or does not" but address outcomes on varying axes (i'm sure there's a name for this that these games use)?

    Thanks,

    Dave
  • Okay, I'm in.

    In your opinion, what's the simplest way for a game designer to dispose of, or at least mitigate, with the common 'more guards after these guards' problem? Is it better, in your opinion, to describe the problem in detail, or the solution?
  • Ron,

    Feel free to use The Roach as an example.
  • Ok, is this perceived as the same or different than the issue faced by games which offer narration rights as their means of resolution?

    -Rob D.
  • I think the problem is that there is no mechanical limit on the creative storytelling aspect of the games you're describing. That's true for either stakes before rolling, or snarky storytelling after the rolling.

    The first example (with the guards) would work if the GM could show the player the scenario was already setup. "So, you've got a couple of aces huh? Well read 'em and weep boys -- I've got a full house!" Maybe the GM has to show the "more guards" card, or that it's written down in the module someplace. "See -- page 13 says '1 guard at the door, and 3 guards hiding in the room.'

    The second example (stakes) would work if there was a limit on how high you could take the stakes -- which is an inherant problem I see with a lot of games with open-ended narrative construction as part of the gameplay. You need an agreement (usually unspoken) not to go too far with your story-telling (stakes or otherwise). That doesn't mean the game can't be fun, but it does mean you can't play competitively -- which is a problem for some gamers. It's not a competitive game, it's collaborative storytelling and should take it's cues from theatre sports more than wargames / boardgames / etc.
  • edited August 2006
    Posted By: Dave YounceRon,

    Can you point to an example of a game where players have a role in setting "if I win then this, if you win then that"-type stakes that doesn't devolve into chestbeating?
    Dave, how about Polaris?
  • Guy --

    That's not how Polaris works.

    yrs--
    --Ben

  • Well, you're right. There is no "If I win this...", There's still, well, there isn't "Stake Setting", it's give-and-take, but I think it is a viable method for stake-setting to learn from.
  • Hi there,

    Dave

    Quick clarifier: please, folks, chesting, not chest-beating. Really. I'm talking about something really specific. Imagine two people trying to occupy the same space, arms at their sides, pushing at one another and shifting their weight to throw the other off-balance, with their chests. Not chest-beating.

    That's a good question. There are some good examples out there that work well, even with setting-changing and back-story-changing elements of outcome-narration.

    Working well type 1: Universalis is about practically nothing else, actually - after a Complication, people get to spend points/Coins on stuff that results, like blowing up buildings or planets or what-have-you. But this is after the Complication dice are rolled, not before, so maybe it's not quite what you were asking about.

    I'll stick with Universalis anyway for just a minute, because I'm trying to get across the idea that scope and scale aren't really the problem, as long as the currency of the outcome or the understood range of the narration is clear and usable, and when you simply move right into the resolution system (and its rules for narration) when the basic conflict of interest among characters is established - and by "move right into," I really mean, move into it right away.

    Working well type 2: Polaris is probably the poster child of pre-narrated outcomes which work well, because it contains a formal de-escalation mechanism - "you ask far too much." De-escalation cancels chesting.

    Working well type 3 (provisional): Conflict resolution in Capes involves a lot of outcome-oriented narration, including a lot of provisional stuff that doesn't happen once the rolls finally shake out. I think it works because of the extremely focused currency-system that underlies its use. With Great Power ... poses a series of questions about this, as does Shock. I'd like to play both of them extensively before being confident in any points I'd make.

    Levi

    The guards-after-the-guards problem is already solved, and has been for about four or five years now, among the body of games that I'm talking about. It's solved by focusing on the conflict of interest that the dice are solving.

    In the older, task-oriented approach, the two people failed to define the task at hand - getting by this guard, or getting through the guards undetected. The system as written would not help you, and groups (a) had to arrive at a consensus about it in order to play such scenes at all; (b) had to jettison dice rolls for such scenes, relying on pure narration; or (c) undergo that asshat-conversation you saw beginning in my example, every damn time.

    With conflict resolution, that problem simply disappears. Is the conflict between this very guard and the character? Is it between the character and the Duke, with the guard as a proxy/medium for the Duke? Whose interests are really opposed such that we even want to roll dice in the first place? The "free and clear" pre-roll phase in Sorcerer, the "say yes or roll the dice" principle in Dogs, and related statements and rules across many 2001-2003 game texts are all versions of this idea. Upon applying it, the guards-after-the-guards problem vanishes forever.

    For example, if the conflict was between this guard and the character (and why? well, the guard would have to be interesting in some way, a priori, and not be just some talking furniture wearing a helmet), then a second conflict about a group of guards is kosher, if it qualifies as a conflict-of-interest on its own. But if the conflict was about sneaking through the guards, period, and let's say the conflict-of-interest is really with the Duke, then hammering the characters with more guards is cheating - you're trying to re-roll an outcome you didn't like, which is asshattery in conflict resolution.

    Best, Ron
  • edited August 2006

    Dave, Shock: does this by requiring orthogonal Intents. At no point can players set up a situation where one's success inherently requires the other's failure (or success for that matter).

    A playlet ensues.

    Joshua: OK, I'm gonna embarrass Lexis, making her lose all credibility in the eyes of the Synod.

    Dave: Lexis is going to take away the thing you care about most: your family.

    exeunt.

    Now, you've got dice, both of you. You get to choose, using the dice, which you want to happen more: your own Intent, or the failure of your opposition.

    You say what you want to happen. I say what I want to happen. If I escalate what I want to happen after you've said what you want to happen, it's no big deal; it just means that I didn't really say what I wanted to happen.

    So, in the "more guards" example, let's say I'm playing with Levi, who's playing a Protag.

    Levi: I'm gonna get in to the Sacred McGuffin Room.

    Joshua: OK, my Intent is that the guards catch you.
    Levi: Oh, I mean, my Intent is that I actually steal the Sacred McGuffin. I've got six dice, so I'll roll 4d10 to steal it and 2d4 to keep from getting caught.
    Joshua: OK, I'm gonna spend 5 Credits to stop you. I actually think it's OK if you steal it, so I'm only rolling 1d4, but I'm rolling 4d10 that say that they catch the shit out of you.

    Note that there's nothing I can do about your readjusting your stakes. What I can do has no bearing on that. If you say, "I destroy the universe and make a new one, with me as king!" then you might get a bullshit call, but maybe everyone's cool with that. Significantly, everyone at the table gets a mechanical bullshit call, including me, in the form of Minutiæ and opposition dice, respectively.

    Ron, this is the kind of thing you're talking about, right?

  • So, Ron, would it be fair to characterize your issue with the technique as misuse brought about by poor or insufficient explanation in game texts as to how it should be applied in play?
  • Whoa, more comments/questions ...

    Regarding Polaris, I think I'm seeing agreement between Ben, Guy, and me, without any question to address.

    Rob and Stuart, I think you're asking/saying almost the same thing, so I'll answer you together. Let me know if I've done any damage to your points or questions in doing so.

    And my answer is, the key variable is the conflict of interest at hand. The stated constraints on outcome-narration in The Questing Beast are fully functional, because they focus on dealing with that, and perhaps spinning off into a new scene to frame, but no more.

    I think as long as the rules make it clear that all narration going on during this part of play should concern the conflict, before & during & after the roll (or draw or whatever), then a wide range of possible scope and effects can be functional. In some games, it could be pretty small, as when players of The Pool use their Monologue of Victory basically to add Color and enjoy their depiction of their character's actions. It could be pretty big, as when players of The Pool use the same rule to inject motivation and a change of heart into a major NPC. Both are kosher, and I definitely think a game rules-text with such techniques does well to illustrate the desired scope & scale as clearly and definitively as possible.

    Best, Ron

    P.S. I have to leave the computer for a while ... please don't dogpile, OK?
  • Ron:

    I was actually kind of asking for "when designing *new* games, how best to do it", but, after a fashion, you answered that, too...

    ...Reread the games, and pay attention to how it was already solved with conflict resolution. Right-o.
  • With the Guard example, let's imagine that the background to the encounter is that the player was told the Sherrif's counting room contained all the stolen money from the poor peasants, but it would be heavily guarded. When the hero encounters the lone guard, the player might believe the conflict at hand is that he is going to sneak past him. What the player doesn't know is that there are more guards hiding in the counting room ready to catch anyone foolhardy enough to just walk in. The player thinks the encounter is a simple test of their stealth skill, when in fact it's a trap set by the Sherrif. The important choice the player makes is whether to sneak past the guard, or choose some other course of action (which may reveal the presence of other guards waiting for a thief).

    In game terms, this would be most dramatic (and thus work best) if the player does not know the full scope of the conflict up front. To avoid the feeling the other player (GM) is simply being arbitrary, the player of the hero should be able to confirm this situation was pre-existing (written down in the gamebook, a special card in another player's hand, etc)

    As for free-form shared narration / plot control -- the problem is the players are almost always being arbitrary. This can be a lot of fun, like improv comedy / theatre, but it doesn't lend itself to players in direct conflict. It's more like stage combat. The players aren't really trying to beat their opponent, but rather create a dramatic situation. I think whether it's stakes before a roll or any other time in the game, misuse "brought about by poor or insufficient explanation" or simply by players working towards different versions of "fun" and "winning" the game could be a problem. Even calling it a game could be a problem.

    "Mind's Eye Theatre" is a great term to describe the second style of play (free-form shared narration / plot control), although ironically, the White Wolf system that used that name was actually more like the first example... :)
  • Stuart, check out some Competitive games, the players are trying to beat their opponents and create dramatic situations, so there'd be further conflicts.
  • Stuart, check out some Competitive games, the players are trying to beat their opponents and create dramatic situations, so there'd be further conflicts.

    I'm not suggesting that competitive games don't have dramatic situations -- just that genuinely competitive play require rules that all the players understand and agree to. And not all play is genuinely competitive -- play fighting and olympic wrestling might at first glance look very similar, but they're really quite different. :)

    I'm suggesting free-form narrative games are more like play fighting. The players have to pull their punches -- they can't go all out to try and win, or it spoils the fun.
  • Exactly, which is why I suggest competitive games, those who have competition enabling rules.

    My point was less about the drama, and more about actually trying to beat their rivals. Tony for example is all for no punch-pulling when it comes to Capes.

    But I feel it's a threadjack so I'm letting it die.
  • Ron,

    A couple of questions. The first is trivial: why is there an important distinction between "chesting" and "chest-beating?" I see your image of two people trying to occupy the same physical space, but "chest-beating" evokes two simians on opposite hills, both fighting to be the top of the social heap. Surely both terms are equally (if loosely) valid?

    Secondly, and please read this in the Socratic light that it's written, if the negotiated resolution system in Polaris works, how does that tie to the conflict at hand being the key variable? As written, it lends itself, even encourages elements being added that are well out of the scope of the initial conflict. I can see that "You Ask Far Too Much" acts as a counter to the intentions-are-stakes issue, but it also seems to act as a counter example to focus on conflict.
  • In the guard example, there are really two conflicts, but the second one is apparently determined by GM fiat. It appears as though he other guards did not have to roll anything to ambush the PC. In this regard, I am surprised that Burning Wheel hasn't been mentioned yet. The requirement to state the intent of an action, along with the Let It Ride rule, seem like a wonderful approach to solving the guard issue and all related issues of succeeding at a task but having one's intent violated.

    That's kind of a hidden conflict resolution thing, but it's also really its own unique way of handling tasks and intents, one that deserves more attention in this discussion.
  • Jason, do you remember that time we tried to play Polaris at your house? The one where we killed a bunch of demons with an opera? I have to say, I think, in that game, we fell victim to the seductive power of stakes setting, where we were more interested in setting crazier and more exciting stakes than we were in the characters and what was happening to them, and so lost our emotional connection to the story. Having experienced that, I have to argue that this problem can even plague Polaris if it's approached in a certain way.
  • Hey, I'm back. Gimme a bit to catch up, OK? It's easy to miss the overlapping posts that pop up when I'm answering the earlier ones. It won't be long, I promse.
  • PTA probably adds some to the confusion, because the real conflict of interest has to do with the protagonist's issue, and you have to do a little digging around to figure out how it factors into the playing of cards and stuff.

    You're sneaking past guards. Your issue is maybe insecurity, let's say. What's at stake, in terms of the conflict, is your issue. Not the guards. How does what happens in your sneakery affect your issue? You get past them, they spot you. Either outcome could be either a win or a lose as far as your issue is concerned.

    No, you don't say, "if I win, I'm no longer insecure." You do say, "if I win, my character addresses his/her insecurity in a positive way."

    Notice how the conflict of interest is clearly established, but nobody knows what will happen until the narration starts flying.
  • JOSHUA

    Orthogonal vs. opposed intentions is actually a side-issue. It's an important side issue, and I even have little arrows on my diagram from my GenCon notes, but conflict resolution can be applied to both.

    Orthogonal (he’s grabbing the vase; she’s shooting him) as well as (he’s stabbing her; she’s stabbing him) because each pair of actions has four identifiable outcomes

    Utterly opposed (he’s grabbing the vase; she’s stopping him from doing so) because this pair only has two identifiable outcomes

    Again, a given game system really ought to make it clear which is which, and how each is handled by the resolution mechanics, or if the game favors one over the other. But my real point is that all my points about stakes apply to both, and distinguishing between the two is, um, well, orthogonal to the topic at hand.

    Sorcerer veterans can see that both kinds are permissible through that game's system. Full Defense, for example, is choosing to be fully oppositional during combat, as opposed to the default approach, which is orthogonal with built-in oppositional options. The confusing bit is that very basic resolution in the game has oppositional as its default. It all works, but you have to go back-and-forth in your thinking while learning it. HeroQuest players will recognize it too, in very similar ways. Trollbabe, on the other hand, tends to be all-orthogonal, all the time; The Pool, in my view, tends to play better if the group keeps things toward the oppositional end.

    MARHAULT

    You're one of the Jasons, right? Trying to wrap my head around internet handles again ...
    So, Ron, would it be fair to characterize your issue with the technique as misuse brought about by poor or insufficient explanation in game texts as to how it should be applied in play?

    Yyyyes. As in, I was under the impression that I'd said that. Or rather, in the conversation at GenCon anyway, that was the starting point. As is, well and good - the answer is "yes."

    As for the "poor and insufficient," I guess I'd like to amend that to "still developing our language and presentation" for an incredible and fruitful explosion of new ways to think about and write about role-playing.

    I mean, the Roach is fuckin' awesome, and so is its procedural parent, My Life with Master. I'm not gonna point my finger and say "poor and insufficient," I'm gonna say "still developing our language and presentation."

    STUART

    I see two issues in your post. One concerns knowledge of what-all's going on that could be affected by the conflict's outcome; you're saying that in some cases, full knowledge is not available to least one party and that's cool. I totally agree. The little diagram I made of conflict resolution (I'm looking for it in my GenCon notes) should make it clear that nothing about that is a problem for what I'm saying. I'm not saying that conflict resolution is always handled by a bird's-eye-view, total-knowledge approach. I'll get that diagram up once I find the notes and cope with some way to represent it.

    The other issue concerns shared narration, plot control, "story control" (whatever that is), and aspects of competition or display all mixed in there ... I agree with what you're saying and don't see much else to say.

    (continued)
  • edited August 2006
    (continued from above)

    JUDSON
    why is there an important distinction between "chesting" and "chest-beating?" I see your image of two people trying to occupy the same physical space, but "chest-beating" evokes two simians on opposite hills, both fighting to be the top of the social heap. Surely both terms are equally (if loosely) valid?

    To what I'm describing, the chesting-thing strikes me as an apt physical analogy with no need for qualifying or fixing or explaining. I'd rather stick with it on that basis and not try to bring in other images.
    Secondly, and please read this in the Socratic light that it's written, if the negotiated resolution system in Polaris works, how does that tie to the conflict at hand being the key variable? As written, it lends itself, even encourages elements being added that are well out of the scope of the initial conflict. I can see that "You Ask Far Too Much" acts as a counter to the intentions-are-stakes issue, but it also seems to act as a counter example to focus on conflict.

    Sorry man ... I'll invoke my as-yet-internet-invisible diagram again. Suffice to say that conflict resolution, in some systems, can be highly modified in terms of what's up and what's happening as you go along. Polaris has a lot in common with The Shadow of Yesterday in that the conflict-topic can shift and change under you as it goes along. That's all formalized and stepwise and understandable, though, and it has nothing to do with the pre-mechanics chesting thing.

    CHRISTIAN/XENOPULSE
    In the guard example, there are really two conflicts, but the second one is apparently determined by GM fiat. It appears as though he other guards did not have to roll anything to ambush the PC. In this regard, I am surprised that Burning Wheel hasn't been mentioned yet. The requirement to state the intent of an action, along with the Let It Ride rule, seem like a wonderful approach to solving the guard issue and all related issues of succeeding at a task but having one's intent violated.

    Dude, I can't cite every game that exemplifies every point, not on first post anyway. The answer is "yes." Let It Ride is very much about whether X is or isn't a conflict in the developing fiction, and it's strongly related to "say yes or roll the dice." Let It Ride is a lot like what I stress a lot in Sorcerer play, that after you've run the resolution system, there aren't any do-overs. That conflict was resolved.

    So it's not really different from what I'm talking about at all. "Say yes or roll the dice" is about going into conflicts and saying "yup, this is worth a roll," and Let It Ride is about what you do when you've done it, which is to say, accept it and say "system matters, that is resolved, move on." They totally go together and require one another.

    JONATHAN

    What you said. I agree, totally.

    MATT

    Double-plus good on that one. You've probably seen more nuances of the chesting-problem than just about anyone I know, and struggled harder about just what the hell to do with the dialogue prior to invoking the mechanics, which is why I was really bummed you couldn't make it to the conversation.

    Folks should check out a recent thread at the Forge (which I'm blocked from at the moment, can't cite the URL) for more comments from me & Matt about this, relative to PTA specifically.

    Best, Ron

    edited to fix a format glitch
  • As for the "poor and insufficient," I guess I'd like to amend that to "still developing our language and presentation" for an incredible and fruitful explosion of new ways to think about and write about role-playing.

    This really clicked for me--thanks, Ron. One of the things that strikes me about Stakes-talk is it helps to foreground in a rough-and-ready way the distinction between task and conflict resolution, as well as help people consider new ways to organize action in a game.

    It has a propaedeutic function (both for the community and for individuals entering it)--it lets someone (like me not so long ago) see the 'big' distinction. However, its 'giant letters' style also makes it a bit like talking in small words--the idea is expressed, but its ramifications are not. If you only use the small words, you never get to the fine-grained subtleties that make the activity really fun.

    I see it in my head as I kind of scale to which you can appeal when communicating with people. The less they 'get' the more you move to less fine-grained terms. As they use those terms and have access to more subtle discussions, they'll modulate accordingly. I can even see stakes being something you step 'back' to in a game to clarify for the people involved what is 'really' important about a game event.
  • Ron,

    My name's Jamey. A neat trick you may not know about, at story games you can hover your mouse cursor over somebody's handle and get the real name that they entered when they signed up for their account. It comes in quite handy.

    Yeah, you did say that. I was just making sure I understood what you said properly.
    Posted By: Ron EdwardsI'm not gonna point my finger and say "poor and insufficient," I'm gonna say "still developing our language and presentation."
    Cool. Makes sense to me.
  • I see two issues in your post. One concerns knowledge of what-all's going on that could be affected by the conflict's outcome; you're saying that in some cases, full knowledge is not available to least one party and that's cool. I totally agree. The little diagram I made of conflict resolution (I'm looking for it in my GenCon notes) should make it clear that nothing about that is a problem for what I'm saying. I'm not saying that conflict resolution is always handled by a bird's-eye-view, total-knowledge approach. I'll get that diagram up once I find the notes and cope with some way to represent it.

    In a competitive sense it's like a bluff or feint. Trick the other player into trying to go for an easy success, then make your real move while they're off balance. This only works in a game where your opponent could have made a different decision to avoid your bluff -- otherwise it would seem more like cheating.

    In a narrative / classic GM-controlled RPG or Gamebook, it's like a trap/puzzle for the player to overcome. There are clues that they can use to avoid the situation (I was told it was heavily guarded, but there's only one guard here). It changes the conflict resolution mechanism from chance to problem solving / strategy (which many players find more rewarding).
  • Jamey, that doesn't work with you, there's no name in your profile.
  • Sorry man ... I'll invoke my as-yet-internet-invisible diagram again.
    Completely acceptable - so long as the diagram becomes visible sometime soon. You have me on the edge of my seat wanting to see it.

    Especially in the light of Jonathan's comments about Polaris, though, I'm prone to relate this to a misbehavior of a variety of system's my designer's group has run across: that the mechanics and the fiction seem to run at cross purposes. That without a lot of player investment to keep a game on the rails, the rules actively encourage bizarre flights of fancy and wacky improvisation that tend to run roughshod over any SIS or character development. Does that make sense, does it echo any of your own experience, and would you tend to align that with the "chesting" phenomenon you're describing or not?
  • the mechanics and the fiction seem to run at cross purposes. That without a lot of player investment to keep a game on the rails, the rules actively encourage bizarre flights of fancy and wacky improvisation that tend to run roughshod over any SIS or character development.

    Judson, can you concretise that with an example?

  • Thanks, Guy. Fixed now.
  • Wow. I have gone from 100% certainty about what Ron is saying, to zero percent, and now back to something like 85%. This thread (and the Forge thread) have been very helpful. I really want to see the diagram.

    I think it's safe to say that a lot of misccomunication for me was semantic (particularly regarding "outcome" and "intent" and how those things interact with free-and-clear phases of conflict resolution). Also, I've never seen stakes-setting as "chesting" so that whole thing just flew by me without a second glance. The thing that I see happening a lot is what I would call "refinement of intent" during free-and-clear and the establishment of the conflict of interest. We sometimes say "If I win, X" when what we mean is "This thing is my character's goal in the conflict." So, not a prescribed outcome that must be selected from a binary set, but a goal.

    So in PTA, we get this:
    "You're out on patrol, and vampires attack! They grab people and bite them and drink their blood!"
    This is not a conflict-worthy thing in PTA. It's just vamps. Big deal. Where's the conflict? Let's go look for it...

    Xander's player: "Okay, I want to try and fight the vampires, to show Buffy that I'm not a coward." Ding. There it is. Xander has a conflict of bravery, which is one of his core issues.

    The player could have said, "If I win, Xander shows Buffy that he's not a coward." Which could raise some flags just sitting there all alone like that. But really, that's just the player articulating his intent in the conflict. It also decouples the blow-by-blow action in the fiction from the conflict of interest. Sure, we're fighting vamps, say the players, but the conflict is about something else. This is the heart of good PTA play.

    I think this what has confused me all along. True, honest-to-goodness outcomes should not be fixed before resolution. But articulation of intent is critical to even establishing a good conflict in the first place. In articulating a goal or intention, a player might talk about an outcome, but this is different from actually fixing that outcome as a carved-in-stone yes/no result.
  • edited August 2006
    Certainly, Shreyas.

    Not to pick on anyone in particular, but our test run of Capes went pretty abysmally. Not to say that Capes is a bad game, and more than granted that we weren't overly invested in the game, but a lot of what went wrong was that, without a strong player commitment to a central story, bizarre narrative elements were coming out the woodwork, and the game didn't go anywhere except into serious Debt. There's nothing unique about Capes in this regard. Once Upon A Time has a similar issue in frequent play for me.

    To be honest, early round play tests of Repertoire also exhibited this bug, and I've been trying to reason about the causes. I've tried a few things to fix it, but I still feel as if I'm thrashing around. Who knows, I might find a fix, but I don't think I'll have a solution I can generalize at the end of the road.
  • I feel somehow responsible for the stakes fuck ups because when I first really realized what stakes setting was I got a little over excited and taught it to my friends all wrong and wrote up a bunch of AP posts that abused the notion and I think I might've even recorded a session or two where stakes setting was effed up.

    Setting intent and letting the dice guide us the rest of the way (Sorcerer, Burning Wheel) or the narration mechanics take hold (Dust Devils, PTA) has been way more fruitful.
  • I didn't see any questions for me in that round ... so my only comment is to say "Thanks John!!" to John, as well as "you got it, we are singing in harmony," and to go find my notes.

    Best, Ron
  • Judson, thats a thing about Capes play that Tony has been focusing on recently - I would recommend checking out the AP threads linked from this post. In short, he's observed over many games of Capes, that the first couple of sessions tend to be wild'n'crazy until the group gets the hang of how narration works. I dunno whether he considers this a bug or a feature of the game, to be honest.

    ...

    Here's something that might help solidify exactly whats wrong, in case its needed - I woke up the day after this conversation with this phrase in my head. "Bad stakes setting has you arguing over the stakes. Good stakes setting has you reaching for the dice." Basically, once you know the mechanics are going to be triggered (i.e. a conflict has been established, whatever), and you keep talking instead of engaging with those mechanics, you are probably getting into pre-narration territory.

    Ron, does this phrasing of it strike you as problematic at all? Also, feel free to use carry as an example for anything, if something appropriate comes up.

    ...

    I don't have any specific questions for you yet, Ron, but there's something sniffing around at the back of my brain that might turn into a question.
  • Hello,

    I just learned how whispering works. Very erotic! (for those following my Bacchanal threads)

    Turns out Judson wanted me to answer this:
    I'm prone to relate this to a misbehavior of a variety of system's my designer's group has run across: that the mechanics and the fiction seem to run at cross purposes. That without a lot of player investment to keep a game on the rails, the rules actively encourage bizarre flights of fancy and wacky improvisation that tend to run roughshod over any SIS or character development. Does that make sense, does it echo any of your own experience, and would you tend to align that with the "chesting" phenomenon you're describing or not?

    My answer: that makes makes tons of sense, and it matches my observational experience of others' games. I've been developing my skills at conflict resolution since maybe 1985, so it doesn't happen much in groups I play with. My take is that such goings-on may well lay a foundation for the "chesting." However, it's not the only foundation; a common one lately is merely confusion.

    Nathan

    That phrasing is 100% non-problematic and awesome.

    Best, Ron
  • Nathan,

    You're very right: Tony's AP posts (and the threads that follow them) hit the wider outskirts of the numinous issue I'm having with a sledgehammer.

    On the other hand, "Bad stakes setting has you arguing over the stakes. Good stakes setting has you reaching for the dice." strikes me as advice for players, not designers. I think it's very very telling that Tony is talking about a formula for quantifying the quality of Capes play. Where is that formula in the game? It's absence is telling, seems to me.

    On the other hand, turning inside out and producing design criteria looks like this: resolution mechanics should be tailored so that a player involved in a conflict will want to reach for dice rather than proceed into pre-resolution narrative chest-beating.

    The numinous concept, I think, isn't completely related, though. So I think I'll start a different discussion.
  • edited August 2006
    Posted By: John HarperI think this what has confused me all along. True, honest-to-goodnessoutcomesshould not be fixed before resolution. But articulation of intent is critical to even establishing a good conflict in the first place. In articulating a goal or intention, a player might talk about an outcome, but this is different from actually fixing that outcome as a carved-in-stone yes/no result.

    OK that makes a lot more sense to me now. Ron, would I be right in suggesting the important thing is to distinguish between 'agreeing the conflict' and 'setting the stakes' because the latter narrates the outcome, whereas the former defines the field of outcomes. In that canse I suspect I am happy to try using'agreeing the conflict' as a phrase over setting the stakes for what we do in our HeroQuest game. There is an element of agreeing to the magnitude of the conflict for us as well, a kind of how much is at stake here discussion. But I suspect in your terms that is part of the conflict.

    Still I can't help feel that the issue of jouissance of the text will come up here and the term may have already escaped into the wild and beyond your more defined meaning.
  • Ron, I used to think I 'got' conflict resolution, but now I'm not so sure. If I could, may I rephrase what I think conflict resolution is and how it should work, and then you can correct me when I get something wrong?

    First, you need a conflict between the goals of two (or more) fictional characters. The 'thing' they have this conflict over is what's at stake in the conflict, and can be stated explictly (or, I take it, inferred from the goals). Once these are determined (& agreed?), nothing more need be said.

    The resolution system then determines who gets control of those stakes and thus, which goals are met. The resolution system may also determine any side effects or who gets to narrate the exact outcome into the SIS, but they are not defining characteristics of a conflict resolution system.
  • These last two get almost the same answer.

    IAN
    ... would I be right in suggesting the important thing is to distinguish between 'agreeing the conflict' and 'setting the stakes' because the latter narrates the outcome, whereas the former defines the field of outcomes. In that canse I suspect I am happy to try using'agreeing the conflict' as a phrase over setting the stakes for what we do in our HeroQuest game. There is an element of agreeing to the magnitude of the conflict for us as well, a kind of how much is at stake here discussion. But I suspect in your terms that is part of the conflict.

    All of that is basically correct, Ian. There is one thing I should make clear. The term "stakes" as has been adoped far and wide (with the attendant hassle that has led me to get on this hobby horse) was not generated by me. I never invented it, never used it, never applied it in any way like it's being applied. For me, it's always been the conflict-of-interest as the defining feature.

    I did introduce the term "stakes" with my game Trollbabe, but it applied to something vastly different: it's a feature of scenario outcome, signalling the end of a scenario and helping with a few key GM decisions during it. That use is completely unrelated to anything that seems to have been associated with the term since then. I consider my use in Trollbabe to be specific rules-jargon for that game and have never utilized it in any other sense.

    Since the use of "stakes" has been vague at best, misleading at the most common, and conducive to un-fun play at worst, I do not consider it a good candidate for inclusion in the Model vocabulary. So your statement above makes most sense to me when one just clips out all the phrases with stakes in them and let the other, sufficient phrases stand.

    WARREN

    That's a pretty good paraphrase. You might notice that the term "stakes" can simply be removed from your statement without any harm to the basic concepts being described. It is not present, for instance, in my own definition of Conflict Resolution in the Provisional Forge Glossary.
    Conflict resolution
    A Technique in which the mechanisms of play focus on conflicts of interest, rather than on the component tasks within that conflict. When using this Technique, inanimate objects are conceived to have "interests" at odds with the character, if necessary. Contrast with Task resolution.
    (for clarity, I hope)
    Task resolution
    A Technique in which the Resolution mechanisms of play focus on within-game cause, in linear in-game time, in terms of whether the acting character is competent to perform a task. Contrast with Conflict resolution.

    It seems to me that your paraphrase matches pretty exactly with my existing definition.

    In other news, I found my notes and am transcribing the diagram. Remember, it's an easy bog-stupid "I knew that" diagram; it just makes it easier to point out where various points or inquiries fall relative to the other features of a given conflict resolution procedure.

    Best, Ron
  • Ron, I'm looking at your examples from back in your first post in this thread. Everybody really needs to be on the same page with respect to the conflict. They need to be able to agree to the scope, scale and focus of the conflict, and respect that when they're setting their stakes. I don't see any real difference between that and a non-stakes conflict resolution system.

    Is there something about stakes based resolution that makes it any more prone to the chesting phenomenon than any other conflict resolution system? If so, what?
  • Hey, I'm a visual guy, so Diagram == Awesome.

    -Andy
  • Jamey, I don't know how to say it any differently. Adding this whole "stakes" thing is an intrusive, unnecessary, accident-prone step. You don't need it for conflict resolution, and when you do it (beyond the careful delineations of characters' intent best described above by John Harper), problems arise all too easily.

    To me, your question is like asking why a turtle isn't still a turtle if you Crazy Glue a steeple to its back. Sure it's still a turtle. But it's not a better turtle this way; it was capable of doing all the things turtles do before you put the steeple on there; and now that it has the steeple, its capacity to do turtle-things well has been compromised.

    I'm saying, get rid of the damn steeple. The turtle was fine without it.

    Best, Ron

    P.S. Andy, the diagram's almost done.
  • Oh yes ... the above post does not apply to games which have a systematic, during-resolution method of establishing outcomes prior to the final resolution. Capes and Polaris are the most clear/dramatic examples.

    My objections are specifically targeting this business of stakes as pre-narrated outcomes that get established before moving into the resolution procedures. That is why I am calling it a structural problem.

    Best, Ron
  • I've been following this discussion pretty closely and if I'm not mistaken this is what I'm seeing:

    Stakes in PtA = Stakes in Dogs = *Goals* in Trollbabe.

    In my Dogs game everything is always stated in terms of what the characters are trying to accomplish. "We want this guy to acknowledge there's a problem with his behavior." "We want to expose the Sorcerer as evil to his followers."

    But none of that has to do with the *logistics* of how those goals manifest in the fiction. Take the exposing the Sorcerer stakes/goal. This was a real example from my game. Over the course of applying the resolution mechanic (the see/raise rhythem) things got rather dramatic. We had gin being turned into maggots, glowing mind controlling glasses, and it all culminated in the Dogs setting the Sorcerer on fire and him standing there laughing like a madman. So the *outcome* as it has been used here was that all the followers ran away screaming in terror, convinced that their once would be leader was, in fact, insane.

    Now, with out all the meat of the see/raise rhythm I suspect there was no way we could ever have come up with that reaction as a possibility if we were setting stakes like, "If we win the crowd embraces each other in hugs and kisses and shames their cult leader into repentance." In games with less informative resolution processes like PtA setting stakes like this results in nothing for the narrator do. When the stakes are "Does Xander Impress Buffy" then the narrator in PtA gets to decide *how that impressiveness manifests* which might very well be, "Buffy runs away in tears thinking she is inadequate." which of course is impossible if the stakes are worded as, "Buffy is so impressed she admits her love for him."

    Jesse
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